A video series featuring interviews with young female bloggers, business owners and creatives has been accused of being an elaborate scam by numerous Instagram users, who say its creator used stories of terminal illness and family death to emotionally manipulate interviewees into handing over cash.
Scroll down for updates from former NZ Bachelors Art Green and Zac Franich, and TV host Colin Mathura-Jeffree
Several Instagram users say they were scammed out of hundreds of dollars by a filmmaker who told them he was strapped for cash due to a terminal brain tumour.
The man in question, who goes by the name Dominic (Dommy) Topia, ran a documentary project called ‘The 21 NZ’ – a series of “sit down, candid interviews of 21 inspiring, motivated, goal-setting, career-driven, creative thinking Kiwi females”. Many of these individuals were young bloggers, business owners and creatives he’d found through social media. Topia interviewed these women last year and the documentary was set to be released in January. However, no video has emerged and all contact with Topia has since ceased.
Aisling Doyle, who runs popular food and lifestyle account Healthy Clean Holistic says Topia contacted her to be interviewed for ‘The 21 NZ’ project last year. After being interviewed, Topia told Doyle he was suffering from a terminal brain tumour that had left him strapped for cash. He asked Doyle for $400 to tide him over until his next payday, which she agreed to following promises that she’d be paid back within three days.
“He kept saying he’d transferred it and sent me the bank account which was one digit wrong. Then he said he’d drop off the cash and when that was meant to happen he said his goddaughter had died so he couldn’t drop it off anymore. Then he said he was having seizures and couldn’t use his phone. Then I lost contact.” she says who, in addition to the $400 lent to Topia, had also paid for several cocktails valued at around $20 each.
“He even told me when he died in a few months from his tumour that he wanted me to take over the project and that he wanted to hand over all of his Airpoints to me, which he said were plentiful due to being an au pair, and asked for my Airpoints number. That’s when I became suspicious.”
Ruby Colle, who runs events and promotions company Select Management, was another Instagram user contacted to be interviewed for The 21 project. “After the interview, Dommy asked me for money as he’d forgotten his wallet and needed a taxi ride home,” Colle wrote in an Instagram post last night. “Trying to be a good human, I gave him $20 cash. He had previously told me he had a tumour in his brain and was busy with treatment so how could I be the bitch not giving the guy with a tumour money?”
“I [then] started getting some rather odd texts from him about how inspirational I was [and] how he’s so excited to have me as a new friend… he even asked me if he could be a bodyguard for my girls at events. I started getting very uncomfortable… and kept communication to a professional minimum.”
Colle says that she knows of at least six people that have lent Topia more than $150, as well as several others who spent smaller amounts of money in the form of food and drinks. Colle’s Instagram post on her dealings with Topia attracted numerous others to come forward to say that he had also scammed or tried to scam them financially, including Riot Foods director and season one star of The Bachelor NZ Art Green (an Instagram post by Topia from November shows Zac Franich and Colin Mathura Jeffree were also involved in a male version of ‘The 21 NZ’).
Elly Strang, editor of the magazine Idealog, was also one of those to come forward following Colle’s post. She was approached by Topia back in September who had sent her an email asking to interview her on topics such as “feminism in the modern world”, “what it means to be a woman with all that’s going on”, and “how to project yourself as a beautiful person”.
About a week after the interview took place, Topia contacted Strang to say he’d been given two VIP tickets to annual New Year’s Eve music festival Rhythm & Vines but couldn’t go because of his health issues. He told Strang she could buy the tickets off him for approximately $300-$400 but noted that he wouldn’t be able to send an email copy of the tickets – she would have to pick them up at the venue in Gisborne at the start of the festival on December 29. When Strang became suspicious and told him she would have to see proof before purchasing the tickets, Topia became aggressive in his texts and made abusive phone calls.
“Basically every person he’s asked to be in the series he’s tried to scam one way or another” she says. “I find it disgusting that he would prey on young, vulnerable girls with the promise of this exciting and inspirational social media series when it was all actually a sham for him to try to steal money off of us.”
While Topia’s Instagram account – which he uses to describe in extensive detail both his cancer battle and his documentary project – has not been active December 2017. However, his Twitter account shows that he was last active on April 30.
Topia has been approached for comment.
Speaking to The Spinoff this morning, Riot Foods director and season one star of The Bachelor NZ Art Green says he was randomly approached by Topia at a bar last year to talk to him about ‘The 21 NZ’ which was described to Green as “a charity to help young women feel empowered”. Green gave Topia his email and the pair later met up for coffee.
“He basically told me all of his history which was that his girlfriend died a couple of years ago from cancer and that he’d been diagnosed with a brain tumour and had surgery for that,” recalls Green. “He said he wanted to do something really good for young women… he seemed like a legitimate guy and that he had his heart in the right place. He then asked me if I wanted to be part of [a similar project] but with guys, so I said I’d be happy to partake in that”.
“I still wasn’t wasn’t 100% sure about this guy so I looked on his Instagram page and saw that he had photos of some of the interviews he’d done and some of the women I recognised. So I thought maybe he was legit.”
“Then we went for another coffee and he said he had a broken phone or something. I had a spare phone lying around at home so I gave him that. He said he’d give it back in a couple of weeks but I kind of just forgot about it because I didn’t really need it, so I gave it to him basically.”
A few weeks later, Topia contacted Green asking for money, telling him that his family needed to pay rent and there was no one else he could turn to. “I ummed and ahhed about it for a few days and everything in me was saying I really shouldn’t give this guy money,” says Green. “But I thought: ‘If he’s legitimate, then it’s all good. If he’s a conman, then he’s probably in need anyway. So I loaned him $500 and he said he’d pay me back in a few weeks.”
Several months later, Green has yet to hear from Topia nor get his money back. He says Topia also reached out to him saying he wanted to interview his partner and fellow star of The Bachelor NZ Matilda Rice for ‘The 21 NZ’. “This was before I’d lent him the money and at that point, I still wasn’t too sure about him so we decided to just let that go,” he recalls. “Also, a couple of times – probably about three times in conversation – he was like, ‘Let me know what I can do! Just let me know if you need me to feed your cats when you’re away‘. At one point he even asked about meeting at my place and that’s when I said no – I definitely didn’t want him to know where I lived.”
Former fashion model and TV host Colin Mathura-Jeffree also got in touch with The Spinoff this morning to say that Topia asked him for money as well (Mathura-Jeffree refused). Before that, he says he and season three star of The Bachelor NZ Zac Franich had met up with Topia at a cafe where he told them about ‘The 21 NZ’. “He offered to pay for breakfast… and suddenly he had no wallet [and] I instantly smelt a rat,” recalls Mathura-Jeffree. “Unfortunately, Zac paid and lent him some cash from what I recall.”
Franich confirms he lent Topia $150 all up. He says the only time he met Topia was with Mathura-Jeffree and has not had his money returned since.
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